Borders on quilts: solutions for your UFOs

Through the Trellis Garden Again by Joanne Traise, featured in Borders by DesignTo border or not to border: when quilters complete a quilt top, that is the question. Borders on quilts provide oodles of ways to polish your final designs. They can:

Frame your design for a professional presentation

Stop a busy design, giving the eyes a place to rest in the margins

Continue a design, balancing a quilt top that feels unfinished

Help you quickly adjust the size of a quilt

Show off your piecing, appliqué, or quilting prowess!

Often, it’s border indecisiveness that contributes to a growing pile of UFOs. But with options for quilt borders at the ready, choices can be way more fun than frustrating! Today, you’ll learn what kinds of questions to ask yourself about quilt borders, and you’ll get a glimpse of just how many options are available.

UFOs, prepare for final lift off!

Borders on Quilts: Sewing the Simplest of Borders

From The Quilter’s Quick Reference Guide by Candace Eisner Strick

The Quilter's Quick Reference Guide by Candace Eisner StrickSimple borders can be a single strip of fabric, or you can use multiple strips. But the width of your border is a crucial factor in how your finished quilt will look. To help you determine what border width to use, I suggest that you fold your border fabric and hang it on your design wall or lay it on the floor beside the quilt top to see how the fabric will look. Try folding it into different widths to see what proportion works best.

Butted-corner bordersWith a butted-corners border treatment (left), borders are sewn to two opposite sides of the quilt, and then the remaining borders are attached to the other two sides of the quilt. You can attach either the side borders first or the top and bottom borders first. On rectangular quilts, side borders are often attached before the top and bottom borders, since this order may require less fabric depending on the size of your quilt.

1. For the side strips, measure from top to bottom through the center of your quilt.

2. Cut two border strips to the desired width (plus seam allowances) and then trim them to the exact length of your measurement from step 1. Sew a border to each side of the quilt, easing as needed. Press the seam allowances toward the borders.

3. For the top and bottom borders, measure across the center of the quilt, including the borders that you just attached.

Corner-squares borderA simple way to add interest to plain butted-corner borders is by adding corner squares (left). These squares can be plain squares of contrasting fabric, or they can be pieced quilt blocks. The block design can complement the quilt interior, repeat the block design used in the quilt, or use just one component of the block design.

1. Measure both the length and width of the quilt. Cut two border strips to each of these in the desired width (including seam allowances for the width).

3. Sew the side borders to the sides of the quilt top.

4. Cut four corner squares the same width as your border strips. For example, if your borders are cut 4½" wide (to finish at 4″), then cut four 4½" x 4½" squares. Alternatively, you could piece four blocks that measure 4½" with seam allowances.

4. Sew a corner square to each end of the top and bottom quilt borders. Press the seam allowances toward the borders. Sew the finished borders to the top and bottom of the quilt. Press the seam allowances toward the borders.

Get tips and ideas for double borders, pieced borders, and appliquéd borders in The Quilter’s Quick Reference Guide.

Borders on Quilts: Making Medallion-Style Quilts

From Blocks, Borders, Quilts! by Sunny Steinkuhler

Blocks, Borders, Quilts!Start with a 12″ block of your own or choose one from this unique book; then plug in dozens of different borders that promise to fit perfectly every time! Author Sunny Steinkuhler shares the idea behind Blocks, Borders, Quilts! in this excerpt:

“I’ve spent many hours looking through quilting books and magazines, searching for just the right block…and a border to go with it. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it! My personal pleasure in creating new blocks and putting together one-of-a-kind quilts brought me to the Medallion Template (below) and the idea for this book.

Blocks, Borders, Quilts! will help you find the block and borders you’re looking for. The Medallion Template will help you create a unique and truly personal design for your quilts. Creating your own design is as simple as plugging in one of almost 100 blocks for the quilt center, and then choosing from the dozens of borders featured in the book. It’s as easy as that!

This book is like a salad bar. Walk around once, to see what’s here. Walk around again, choosing the things that caught your eye. Arrange them tastefully on your plate, and… Happy eating. I mean, happy quilting!”

Martingale staffers loved the idea of Sunny’s book so much that we got together and tried the “BBQ” (blocks, borders, quilts!) approach to designing quilts. Here are just a few of the results from our “BBQ” quilt-along (follow the progress of each quilt this way: top left, top right, bottom left, bottom right).

Karen J's BBQ quilt
From Karen, director of sales and marketing: “Orbiting the BBQ”

Chris's BBQ quilt
From Chris, retired customer-relations manager (we miss you, Chris!): “Friendship Garden Memories”

Linda's BBQ quilt
From Linda, administrative assistant: “All around the Christmas Tree”

Claudia's BBQ quilt
From Claudia, production coordinator: “Happy Fish”

So many diverse results—all from the same book!

Check out more “BBQ” quilts from Martingale staffers at these quilt-along links:

Round OneRound TwoRound ThreeRound Four

Borders on Quilts: Design Your Own Borders

From Borders by Design by Paulette Peters

Borders by Design by Paulette PetersThere are no rules about quilt borders, but there are many questions. How wide should my borders be? How narrow? Should they be pieced, appliquéd, or plain? What is the best way to frame a quilt? How can I make this quilt big enough for the bed when I’m tired of piecing? There are many answers to these questions. Only you can decide what your rules will be for a particular quilt.

The most important consideration in designing a good border is unity. The border should relate to the quilt as a whole. Some aspects of unity include: rhythm, flow, balance, and proportion. If you understand these principles, you will find it easier to design effective borders for your quilts.

Rhythm is accomplished through the repetition of a design element. Achieve visual rhythm by using the same fabric, color, or block design in both the interior and border of your quilt.

Garden Squares by Patty Kennedy
Example of rhythm: “Garden Squares” by Patty Kennedy

Flow describes unbroken movement within a design. Does the quilt make a smooth transition from the focal point to the edge? To make a successful transition, use appropriate border widths, blend colors from the quilt center to the edges, or extend the central design elements into the border. Make the border look as if it belongs on that quilt and wasn’t added as an afterthought.

Friendly Stars by Paulette Peters and friends
Example of flow: “Friendly Stars” by Paulette Peters and friends

Balance describes a pattern in which no one element outweighs or detracts from another. Balance can be achieved in many ways. Are there curves in the quilt design? Sometimes the border needs to repeat the curves, and sometimes it needs angles to balance all those curves. Likewise, a very angular, geometric quilt might need the balance of some curves in its border.

Edgewise by Paulette Peters
Example of balance: “Edgewise” by Paulette Peters. Paulette added a spacing border, a Sawtooth border, another spacing border, an on-point border, an appliquéd swag border, and an exterior appliquéd Sawtooth border to this quilt.

Proportion refers to a pleasing relation of parts within a whole. Play with the size of various design elements to achieve proportion in your quilt. To maintain emphasis at the center of a quilt, use pattern pieces of the same size in the border and quilt center, or use smaller pieces in the border. For example, if the blocks use 3″ pieces, the pieced border could also use 3″ pieces. Or, make the border pieces even smaller, using 1½" pieces.

Make sure your borders are in good proportion to the quilt center. A border that is too narrow makes the quilt look unfinished. A border that is too wide looks heavy and overwhelms the center.

Too-narrow and too-wide quilt borders
Too-narrow and too-wide borders

More quilt-border resources:

  • Learn how to measure borders for your quilt in this post.
  • Learn how to sew mitered corners for your borders in this post.
  • Download our free “How to Sew Borders on Quilts” eBooklet from our How to Quilt page.

What’s your approach to borders—plain, fancy…or absent? Share your border stories in the comments!

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